31. Antigone, by Sophocles (441 BC)

Plot : Following on directly from the deaths of Eteocles and Polyneices at the end of Aeschylus’ Seven against Thebes. The new king Creon decrees that the ‘patriot’ Eteocles be buried with all due honours and rites, whereas the ‘traitor’ Polyneices’ body be left for the dogs and vultures to rend. Antigone, one of the two daughters remaining to the House of Oedipus, resolves to disobey.
My copy is the Penguin edition covering Sophocles “Theban plays”, translated by Robert Fagles (ISBN 9780140444254)

My thoughts: Wow, what an overwhelming tragedy! Easily worthy of comparison with Shakespeare in its depth and horror. I will not describe too much here as I feel the new reader coming to this play will be more affected (as I was) the less they know of the outcome of Antigone’s resolve and Creon’s unrelenting stance.
Antigone seems surely doomed, but what of Ismene her sister who refused to act, but was willing to die alongside her? Will the family curse wipe out every single member? And what will be the impact on Creon as sentiment in Thebes swings to Antigone?
The conflict between Creon and Antigone is based not only upon the loyalty to the city state versus the loyalty to friends and family, and also the conflict between divine versus civic justice.
Also we can see three actors on stage plus the Chorus as the ‘rules’ of Greek drama begin to evolve.

Favourite lines/passages: The play rockets along without giving the reader pause to admire the language. At best I can offer the following from the Chorus on the family curse

“..once the gods have rocked a house to its foundations,
the ruin will never cease, cresting on and on from one generation on throughout the race
like a great mounting tide
driven on by savage northern gales, surging over the dead black depths
roiling up from the bottom dark heaves of sand
and the headlands taking the storm’s onslaught full-force, roar
and the low moaning echoes on and on ……
one generation cannot free the next – some god will bring them crashing down”
(Chorus, lines 657-671)

By the end of the play, I wondered if perhaps the curse has been lifted from one family only to fall onto another. Can curses never be defeated but merely transferred, like some virus-borne disease, to run their course again elsewhere?

Personal rating: 8/10. It might have reached a 9 if I had been swayed more by the language.

Next : Ajax, by Sophocles.

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